Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Time to Bring Public Policy and Social Media Together for Progress

I've had a great summer, much of it spent off the grid unplugged from email, tapping into social media for fun. It's been great connecting on a more personal level with family and friends in real time talking, laughing, crying, sharing, hugging.

Thinking back to when Facebook arrived on the scene in February 2004: I was slow to adopt. I signed up eventually and connected to family and local friends. When Twitter followed in March 2006, I decided I was not going to try to keep up with yet another platform. Not so for businesses, corporations, institutions, and the like. Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook opened up a whole new world of marketing strategy for them.

"We don't have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it." ~ Erik Qualman

After being accepted in 2011 into a 6-month program for women interested in pursuing political office, I was introduced to Twitter and quickly grew to enjoy it. I set myself up on LinkedIn later that same year and leaned into the idea of using Facebook as a way to connect with folks on a range of issues, too. This video gives a snapshot of social media at the time:

Gone are the questions asking if social media is here to stay. Clearly they are, though how kids and adults are using social media today has changed dramatically.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat Used Most Often by American TeensConsider a PEW study published earlier this year that provides an overview on American teens and their use of technology and social media. One finding showed that 92% of teens were online everyday, with 24% online "almost constantly".

So much has changed - and is changing - across our media-saturated landscape. Schools and individual teachers are working to bring media literacy to students, but media literacy is not broadly implemented in our public schools and media literacy is rarely part of the public debate on education. Still, more and more politicians and policymakers are getting on twitter and facebook to connect to their stakeholders and constituents.

I'm a member of the national advisory council for Media Literacy Now. We want our elected representatives and policymakers to engage with us on social media. As more and more elected people are engaging stakeholders and constituents through Twitter and Facebook, we can connect with them in meaningful ways to impact awareness of the urgent need for media literacy education and other key public policy issues of our time.

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Posts, Podcasts, tweets

Addendum: cross-posted September 9 on Media Literacy Now blog

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Back to School

I'll admit to being more than a little misty-eyed when I saw our youngest head off for the first day of school for this year. She works hard and has faced many academic challenges in her K-12 experience thus far, showing resilience and strength of character in facing them. She follows two older brothers, now college grads, and though she is still on the journey, in many ways just beginning, I couldn't be more proud.

We know families play essential roles in student success, beginning with their critical role in children's school readiness. Children depend on all of us to support their development everywhere they learn: at home, in PreK programs, in school, afterschool programs, in faith-based institutions, in community-based programs and activities. Engagement is continuous across a child’s life and entails enduring commitment -- but changing parent roles -- as children mature into young adulthood.

Researchers describe effective family involvement as a shared responsibility, meaning that schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways in which families are committed to actively supporting their child's learning and development. The strongest research evidence indicates that parental beliefs, attitudes, values, and child-rearing practices, as well as home–school communication, are linked to student success.

The Parent and Community Education and Involvement Advisory Council (PCEI) to the Commissioner and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has created a set of Family, School, and Community Partnership Fundamentals in Massachusetts. The Fundamentals describe six guidelines schools can use to plan, benchmark, and calculate effective school, family, and community involvement policies and practices. They support high expectations for such partnerships with the goal that coordinated, comprehensive, and systematic supports will create opportunities for all students to achieve academic proficiency and beyond.

The Department's 2015 Strategic Plan includes a goal for supporting students' social-emotional health through the use of the Fundamentals incorporating "engagement strategies into ESE grants, policies, services, and resources from across state agencies and stakeholders, and to strengthen and expand the Department's capacity of educators to support family and community engagement."

Engagement is intentional and integral when it acknowledges the child at the center of schools, families, and communities, and is focused on student learning and development that impact student skills, grades, achievement, health, safety, discipline, and other attitudes and behaviors, as well as to develop students' talent in art, music, technology, and other areas. 

Families not only play a critical role in a child's school readiness but in their decision to pursue higher education. Effective partnership is essential regardless of parents' level of education, country of origin, or socioeconomic status. It's a complementary role through collaboration with schools, educators, and community organizations that establish meaningful relationships for student success.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Public Testimony

My written testimony
On June 11, 2015, Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education held a public hearing on several bills related to testing in K-12 public schools. I was unable to attend the hearing in person, but did submit testimony in support of H.340: An Act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC.

A panel assembled to speak in opposition of the bill included representatives from the Executive Office, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Board of ESE, in the persons of: Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester, Board of ESE Chair Paul Sagan, and a former Board of ESE member Jeff Howard. (Where available, I've linked each person's name to their testimony).

Note that at no time before or after the public hearing did BESE discuss any of the bills.

My testimony below.

Members of the Joint Committee on Education
The Honorable Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair
The Honorable Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, co-chair
Sate House Public Hearing on Assessments
Room A-2 [the hearing was subsequently moved to the Gardner Auditorium in order to accommodate the high number of people who turned out for the hearing]

June 11, 2015

Dear Legislators,

My name is Mary Ann Stewart and I'm a parent of a high school student and two college graduates. Though I am a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I am speaking for myself and not as a Board member; my comments are my own.

I have been following, with interest, mounting concern being expressed about the impact high-stakes standardized testing and test preparation is having on our public school students, their schools and districts, and educators who teach and work in them. Leaders in every level of government, along with folks in neighborhoods across the state and country, are expressing a range of views stemming from a concern about these tests and their impact: On narrowing curriculum (especially in the weeks leading up to testing dates); on educator evaluation; on the increased time and money spent to administer them; on the over-reliance of high stakes accountability measures on schools and districts for state and federal dollars.

In many states, the concern rises because the impact of these tests coincides with the increased use/availability of technology and also the implementation of new frameworks for educator evaluation, a condition for many who hoped for federal RTTT dollars. In Massachusetts, in addition to the educator evaluation implementation, high stakes accountability measures intersect with the development of district determined measures, the RETELL initiative, and soon, perhaps, the PARCC assessment (or MCAS 2.0). These concerns impact schools, families, students, and districts in the toniest communities, but students in low-income communities of color are hit the hardest - and at a time when we are trying to close gaps.

We are working against our future best interests if allowed to continue with the current testing regime. We want our students to be excited about their future. We want our schools to truly impart a love and joy for learning. We want creativity in teaching - and so much more.

Before we launch the next generation of assessments in Massachusetts, let's not just keep doing what we've been doing since we ushered in the MCAS.

It's time to call for a moratorium on the high-stakes standardized testing era so that we can work together with our communities, schools, educators, policymakers and legislators to re-evaluate with an eye to improving our schools from the inside out, not from the top down.

Thank you for your consideration, courage, and commitment to our children,

Mary Ann Stewart
Lexington MA